It was a rainy morning, a forecast filled with tears.
Ben, the miracle dog, has left us, left my hearth, but not my heart.
These past few days have been the saddest of my life — and that isn’t hyperbole. It seems only right that it has poured rain almost non-stop here for two days, save for a couple of hours where the sun came out and when I lay Ben in a sunbeam as we prepared him for his last. I know some may have a hard time understanding my grief … or understanding the depth of a grief that has been overwhelming, but Ben was more than a dog, so much more than a pet. I’ve never called or considered him a pet myself: he was family, not chattel, not an object. He was not “mine” and I was not his “owner.” We were two creatures bonded together, strong and independent, but dependent on each other, drawn together more and more by a symbiotic thread of life that made us one.
Benjamin was most certainly not a cliché — but he was my best friend. He was also my father; he was even my mother; he was a brother … and he was a son. I’ve heard through secondhand recounts that when some people meet me and watch me, in some contexts, they view me as a stern, serious man. My pensive and somewhat introverted nature certainly has done nothing to challenge those perceptions. But to a person, when they see (saw) me with Ben, they saw a man, a boy, a vulnerable human being with a great heart and a sense of humour. They saw in my interaction with Ben my capacity to love, to give, to accept unconditionally, to give without self. They saw me play; they saw me care; they saw patience; they saw my compassion; they saw my beauty.
Ben was the best of me ….
I do wonder with Ben gone whether people will still be able to see my heart and my humanity? I grant you that I own responsibility for a lot of that … I can continue Ben’s legacy even when he’s not there to be my foil. Ben made me good. I don’t mean that he was a filter through which people saw my goodness, which is true as well. I mean that Ben actually brought out the best in me.
As I said to my friends and family post mortem:
Ben also had the greatest heart … and if you think I have love in me, if you believe I have a great heart, it is because Ben filled me with that … because he fought his way into my heart and opened it to the world.
Ben was and continues to be a life-force. I don’t pretend to understand why — it really has nothing to do with intention. But he just was. He wasn’t an easy dog. And until his last few weeks, he was never lap dog. He found his way to cuddling and connecting, yes, but he was always fiercely independent. There is strong evidence that he had a good amount of Irish Terrier in his blood … and at an early age, I was fond of calling him an Irish terror. He was a fighter and while that made him hard at times, it meant he was a survivor. How else do you find yourself living on the streets of Warsaw still with your baby teeth and finding a way to survive? How do you find not only food, but love in that mix without also being entirely loving? Ben was a fighter, yes, but with a heart made from the hearts of archangels.
I knew how to fight long before I met Ben … but Ben instilled in me that sense of love and for what and why we fight. Through the worst days of my life, through divorces and other losses, through moments of despair, through fear, through confusion, through it all, Ben was my touch stone, my furry rock, the one constant on which I could depend. And in that relationship we shared, and over time, I transferred so many of my hopes and dreams and so much of my love onto Ben. I would have done anything for that dog and I know that I did an incredible amount. I gave so much of my finances and time to him, that is for sure, but I gave him my attention, my thoughts, my values, my heart, my everything. In return, he gave me a love I’ve never felt from anyone else. And the more we gave to each other, the stronger our bond and giving continued to grow. We were everything to each other.
There were days over the past few years and numerous days in the past 6 months of our struggle together that I held him tight to my heart and I made offers to the universe, to whatever force holds this existence together, call it what you will, but I asked that force to take years from my life and give them to Ben. I didn’t care the price or the cost. I wanted Ben to live. And at the end, as I write this, it is the one thing I struggle with most — that I somehow could and should have done more for that sweet little dog that was an external manifestation of my heart.
Ben was the most beautiful dog in the world. Yes, I’m biased, I know. I just have so many incredible memories with this life-force. We had an amazing run. We had an incredibly beautiful last 6 months. And in those last 6 months, since the spring when he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, we strengthened our bond into a titanium cable that will keep us connected forever. We relived some of the most beautiful memories we created. We lay in the grass and we cuddled everywhere. We filled my computer with pictures. We went on a final walk to our park in our favourite season. We went for ice cream one more time and he fed until he got an ice cream brain freeze. And we got to miraculously, truly miraculously, share in one last Thanksgiving together on Monday and he ate his turkey dinner … and then got some more with some whipped cream on top. And we got to take in together the most glorious fall sunrise the morning before he passed.
Ben was so much more to me than the whipped cream on my life, but he was certainly sweet. For a dog that was fierce and full of boundless energy as a puppy, a stage that lasted 6 years for him, he was equally that most loving and endearing senior citizen. In 18½ years, a dog gets to live a few lifetimes, and there is no question that Ben changed, matured, and grew … he became different dogs and I loved each one of Ben for a different reason, each in his own time and place. I am so blessed to have had so long with this angelic creature … and I’m equally sad that it was only 18 years.
I miss Ben already. I miss him terribly. My heart breaks for his physical absence. He became part of my routine — part of the very DNA of my life. My everyday started with him and ended with him. In the last few weeks, I’d roll out of bed and watch him and see him breathing and know we still had more time. But there was not a part of my day that didn’t have him in it, including constantly making sure he got his pees in every 3 or 4 hours to counterbalance the excess water intake that became a part of his life the past 5 years as he battled Cushings disease … and then the renal failure on top of it. Five years is a long time to be thirsty. I looked at a small stain this morning on the porcelain tiles he often fogged up with his breath waiting for me to come home. And I looked at his little clumps of fur that are caught in all the corners of the house. I realize I won’t have to buy family-sized packs of paper towel and Windex anymore. But oh how I wouldn’t give anything to be cleaning up an accident from him today.
The house grew immediately silent when he took his last breath. It’s a silence that is only broken by my own tears when I hear it, when I don’t hear the clickity-click of his nails on the hardwood anymore. And yet I have heard him several times in the past 48 hours, a sound behind me, near. It happens when I make a sudden noise and I hear him wake and I hear a sound that was all his own, something that became part of my auditory memory. It is the sound of a slight gasp, a sigh, a smack of the lips, and then the quick pants that follow when he lifts his head. It is the sound of him awaking, his gaining traction on the moment. I hear a smile and joy in those breaths as he reconnects with me.
Today, there are no feet coming to me as I eat. There is no friend to share the plate or bowl. I stare at my stove over which I laboured so much over the years, making him his own food. I realize I don’t want to eat right now, let alone cook, because if there was only one thing that connected us — and there were many — food was certainly a shared love … and my cooking in particular. Ben was a foodie and I’ve lost my dinner companion of the past 18 years.
Ben has helped me grow as a human being and he has taught me not only what it is to love but how to share it. Ben is now teaching me how to grieve and it is a celebration of my incredible and very deep love for him that I feel emotionally devastated at his loss … a loss that Ben isn’t physically here to help me through. I want to honour his memory as much as I can to be the man that Ben wanted me to be. I want him to be proud to see that I can love others as I love him. I want Ben to see from wherever he is that I’m trying to expand my circle of trust, of friendship, of patience, of acceptance, of selflessness. I want Ben to know that I did my best, truly I did; I want you to know that I will never stop loving him, that I’ll never stop holding him to my heart.
You will never leave me, Ben. You will never be out of my heart. You will always be my boy, my incredible angel. And know that I will never leave you….
I will protect you always; keep you safe; keep you fed; keep you held and secure.
I will love you forever.
Thank you, my sweet Ben. Thank you for being my miracle, my miracle dog.
~ je t’aime beaucoup.
In Memoriam ~ Benjamin ~ My Miracle Dog
April 25, 1996 – October 15, 2014